Great British Baking Show Winner Candice Brown on Her Audition Process and What It’s Like to Film in That Tent

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Photo: PBS

Looking back, that magnificent marzipan peacock showstopper said it all. Tonight on PBS, Candice Brown was crowned this season’s winner of The Great British Baking Show — or, as the Brits would say with an eye roll to us Yanks, The Great British Bake Off — breezing through her last three “Royal” challenges that culminated in an epic picnic fit for Queen Elizabeth II herself. (Look at those piggy sausage rolls!) Although the series wrapped in the U.K. in October, Brown was nice enough to get on the phone with Vulture earlier this week to discuss her crowning culinary achievement, the audition process, and what the show is like behind the scenes.

Congratulations on the win! America finally knows!
Thanks so much. It’s been nine more months over there to watch it, right? I don’t think I’ll ever get bored about talking about this. It’s been incredible.

What encouraged you to audition in the first place?
I love the show a lot and I watched every single season, every single week live. And, of course, I love baking. It’s something I’ve done all my life. But it’s more of the fact that I love the show. It never even crossed my mind that I would actually get onto it and get by every week. So I thought, “You know what? I’d love to do this.” And the rest is history.

Walk me through the application and audition process. I’d love to know every detail from start to finish.
It’s quite intense. You certainly need to know your stuff. First, you have to fill out a really in-depth application form. They ask you very technical questions, things that you’re good at baking, things that you’re not so good at. They also want to see pictures: the hardest thing you’ve made in pastry or the hardest thing you’ve made in bread. You want them to get to know you as a person. You have to touch up the pictures to make them look good! [Laughs.] Nowadays, the fact that you have filters on your phones and mobiles really helps. So I included a lot of photos of things I’ve made. A lot of it is honestly taking pictures and just getting your personality across. After that, I got a series of phone calls that followed up from the application. They ask you very technical questions, so you really have to know your stuff. The further it went along, if you didn’t have a basic knowledge of baking, they would know immediately and cut you. If you make it after the calls, then you finally go and bake in front of [the producers]. They want to ensure you can follow instructions and cope under pressure. It’s very intense, but an incredibly fulfilling experience. And then they offered me a spot. I said yes immediately.

How long did the whole process take?
I sent in my application form in October and I got a phone call in December. I went down early in the New Year for the in-person audition, and then we started filming in April. They make you sweat it out for a few weeks and then they’re like, “Bam, you’re in!”

Were you allowed to tell people that you were participating?
You have to sign a bunch of confidentiality agreements. My other half knew, my parents knew, and a very small amount of best friends. I just didn’t really say much to people. I cancelled a lot of plans! I think people thought I was either very ill or being a bit weird. But actually, I’ve found that people really don’t want to know the outcome. People love the show so much that they don’t want it to be spoiled. When the first episode finally came out, people at work and my other friends were like, “Ah, so that’s why you’ve been avoiding us!”

How did you get to the tent for each episode? Did the show arrange for transportation?
I drove, and the others either drove or took the train. It was easy for all people this season, thankfully. No one had to fly.

I hope you got reimbursed for gas money.
We were very well looked after!

What was your filming schedule actually like? Was there a decent amount of time to rest?
It isn’t always on the weekend. It’s sometimes during the week. And sometimes, the time in between episodes was 12 days or even a day and a half — it varied. We got to have a good rest while filming despite the one or two times where we had a very quick turnaround. I was essentially able to work my day job, practice in the evening, and practice in the morning with no problem on my days off. Although it was very intense, I loved every second of it.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about the show?
For me personally, when I won, I immediately went back to school as a teacher. All of my kids would be like, “Miss, why are you in school? Aren’t you a millionaire now?” There was an assumption that we won money or were automatically handed something big from the experience. But all I won was a glass cake stand — and it means so much to me. People think I got some monetary value or I was going to get money to open a bakeshop or something like that. Everyone who goes on the program just loves baking, they don’t want a reward. I think the other misconception I hear a lot is the timing, surprisingly! A lot of people will say to me, “They must give you longer than the time they give you.” Um, no! You get exactly the time they give you. If they say two hours, they say two hours. Right down to the second. When the clock hits, you’re done.

Did the cake-stand trophy get prime placement in your home?
At the moment, it’s actually at my other half’s mom’s house! She has a lovely, big house. We’re currently in the process of moving. I don’t have anywhere to put it now, but I want to put it on prime display. When I won, I had to hide it away when anyone came over before the episode aired. All I wanted to do was to shout from the rooftops that I had won! But when we move into our new home, that trophy is going to be given the royal treatment.

Are you surprised that the show became a phenomenon across the pond? America is used to its competition shows being plagued with drama and conflict.
I get it in the U.K., because it’s just a nice program. Maybe the reason it’s been so successful over in the States is that it’s so quintessentially British, isn’t it? These are real, nice, diverse people who have come from all walks of life, cultures, and religion to bake. It’s so quintessentially British! We’re baking in a tent! I think the loveliness about it draws people in. I know when I watched Bake Off before being a contestant, I would get attached to contestants. You want to see their stories told and you feel like you get to know them. There’s none of that sort of competitiveness or throwing each other under the bus. We wanted to help each other and we wanted to learn. We all love baking and we love the show. It’s infectious. In the world that we live in at the moment, that nicety is really, really needed and refreshing. You don’t need attitude or shouting. It’s just a good, wholesome program.

You quit your job soon after you won. Now that it’s been nearly a year since the finale aired in the U.K., how would you like your career to progress in the public eye?
People often ask me, “What do you expect from everything?” Honestly, I have no expectations. Because I truly didn’t expect any of this. All of the opportunities that come my way, and that I choose to pursue, are genuine. I just released my first cookbook, called Comfort, which I’m so, so proud of. It’s real comfort food and everything that I loved about my childhood. I write for my favorite Sunday paper, the Sunday Times, which is just incredible to get my recipes out there in that way. I also do a few stints on television and things like that. I’m definitely being kept busy. I’m just so grateful for the position that I’m in now. I write everything myself and I manage everything myself, so I’m proud of that. I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and if more opportunities come about, I’m sure I would look into them. I’d love to do more television. But I’m under no illusion that TV is very hard to get into.

What do you think about the show moving networks with a new iteration of judges? I see it as an end of an era, really.
I genuinely cannot wait for the show to start again. It was always my favorite show and it’s still my favorite show! I think the new lineup of the show is genius. Noel [Fielding] and Sandi [Toksvig] are smart and hilarious. They’ll fill the gap that Mel and Sue left with the humor that the contestants need. It does get stressful, so they’re going to bring that personality when you need a hug or when you need someone to go, “It’s going to be all right.” Paul [Hollywood] is just incredible; he loves the show and just wasn’t ready to give that up. With Prue [Leith] by his side, it’ll be exciting. I can’t wait to see who’ll come into the Bake Off family, too. We’re a big Bake Off family. We all know each other, even from previous seasons, and we all get on brilliantly. It’s something I’m looking forward to seeing. The only change is that now there’s going to be ad breaks. It’ll give people a chance to make a cup of tea, get a slice of cake, or use the bathroom. [Laughs.] That’s the main difference. Once people get back into it, they’ll be fine.

Great British Baking Show Winner on Filming the Show